The following op-ed was written by Tim Barnett, CEO and president of the Jesse E. Barnett Jr. Enrichment Center.
People, in general, have three core places. For many of us, the first place is our home. The second is the place that consumes the hours of our days, work or school. And the “third place” is the coffee shops, barber shops, parks and centers that remind us we share a world with other people.
First referred to in Ray Oldenburg’s novel The Great Good Place (1989), third places are inclusively social places – something that has been lacking for many of Jefferson County’s students.
After the events that occurred on Jan. 6 in Washington D.C., it has become important – now more than ever – to prepare students for complex decisions and engage with them on difficult subjects.
It’s often hard for students to discuss sensitive topics in the classroom. Although, the room may be full of peers, the thought of differing opinions and controversy can be intimidating and frightening. There’s no definitive common ground to stand on.
Except in third places. Third places offer a unique and neutral environment.
Places like the Jesse E. Barnett Jr. Enrichment Center have an opportunity to spark those tough conversations.
Powered by F.O.C.U.S. Training Academy, the Enrichment Center blends competitive sports with free education support and mentoring to create a safe environment for Louisville students to thrive. The Enrichment Center currently offers Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) classes with breakfast and lunch served daily through the Rajon Rondo Learning Center for Teens, a new facility made possible by The Rajon Rondo Foundation.
For some, the Enrichment Center is just a place to gather and socialize. But for a majority of the kids, it’s a community that believes in them with mentors available for questions about schoolwork and also about life.
The budget that used to go toward new basketballs and sports performance equipment has shifted so the Enrichment Center can offer out-of-school programming like the upcoming Safe Sex Education workshop series and “Intro to Finance” and “Home Ownership” classes.
The Enrichment Center serves an average 63 students per week reaching households in more than 10 zip codes across Louisville and Southern Indiana. While a diverse community, the Enrichment Center’s primary focus is helping those who need it most. And the common interest amongst everyone? Basketball.
The Enrichment Center’s unique approach to connecting basketball training to social and personal development is designed to empower the community’s next generation of leaders and invite them to share their varying perspectives. A common interest empowers students to open up and learn from each other, not just a textbook.
With the added challenge of learning in a new virtual way, keeping students engaged in subjects like politics, race and equity is going to be essential in 2021.
In a recent survey by the Kentucky Department of Education, disengagement, alone, was identified as the top challenge for distance learning in the 2019-2020 school year.
Third places offer safe spaces for emotional responses and deeper learning. They help build students’ self-esteem and offer hope in a time when this country needs it most.
Now is a time when everyone in our community – city government, nonprofits, ordinary individuals – need to think creatively about how we can meet the challenges our young people currently face and have those tough conversations. Now is the time to get uncomfortable.
To learn more about how you can get involved at the JEB Jr. Enrichment Center visit jebcenter.org or call 502-890-1720.